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Putin cracks down on the Internet, blocking independent news sites and bloggers

Russia's government moved to tighten its control of the media today, cracking down on independent news sites, bloggers and dissident politicians.

Russia's Prosecutor General issued a directive to all Internet service providers (ISPs) late on Thursday night, demanding that they block an extensive list of major news sites, and system administrators have been ordered to take the offending media sites offline.

The sites are ostensibly blocked for "distributing calls for unauthorised mass events".

The banned sites include the online newspaper Grani, as well as the Anti-Putin information site, run by chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, and even the site of Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow), a radio station which is majority owned by the state.

Popular anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny also had his livejournal blog blocked, with the government claiming it violated the terms of his house arrest, which places stringent restrictions on his access to the Internet.

The blocks are an extension of Russia's controversial 2012 blacklist bill, which allows the government to take down sites that exhibit "extremist" views or contain "illegal" content such as child pornography or material promoting drug use.

This law is strikingly similar to the recent moves by the UK Government to censor certain websites, including file sharing sites and adult websites, as well as plans to extend the ISP blocks to the nebulous category of "extremist content".

At the time, Russian Wikipedia went dark for 24 hours in protest at the new law.

In reaction to the blocks, Chess grandmaster and opposition hero Garry Kasparov tweeted:

These are huge news sites, not political groups. Giant Echo of Moscow site now just gone. Grani, EJ, Navalny's blog, all blocked in Russia.

Mig Greengard, assistant to Mr. Kasparov, reported that's administrators had been contacted by government officials via letter, requesting that they shut down their servers directly.

All of the sites are currently offline, though Grani's website appears to have been blocked within Russia, displaying a message stating that the news site is "blocked at the request of the Prosecutor General."

The move comes amid a propaganda war being waged by Russia ahead of the upcoming referendum on the future of Crimea, a vote that UK Prime Minister David Cameron has called "illegal" and "illegitimate".